Civil Society Organisations, working on access to social security, welcome President Ramaphosa’s signing into law the Social Assistance Amendment Act. These include the Children’s Institute at UCT, Centre for Child Law at UP, Child Welfare South Africa, Children in Distress Network (CINDI) and the Black Sash.
The Act includes a provision empowering the Minister to pay additional amounts or ‘Top-Ups’ to grant beneficiaries based on need. This provision will enable the introduction of the Child Support Grant (CSG) Top-Up for orphans in the care of relatives which is the first step towards a comprehensive legal solution to the foster care crisis.
Paula Proudlock of the Children’s Institute said, “We are pleased that the Social Assistance Amendment Act has been signed by the President. This paves the way for the draft regulations to be gazetted for public comment. If these regulations are prioritised by the Minister, the CSG Top-Up can come into effect at the start of the 2021/22 financial year on 1 April 2021. Once the CSG Top-Up is in place, relatives caring for orphaned children who do not yet have a foster care grant, will be able to go directly to SASSA to get a CSG Top-Up and will not have to wait years for social workers and courts to complete their foster care applications. They will also no longer be at risk of losing their grants every two years and becoming a statistic stuck in an ongoing backlog of over 300 000 expired foster care court orders that the Department has not been able to reduce for the past decade.”
Zita Hansungule of the Centre for Child Law said, “We now look forward to commenting on the draft regulations. These need to define which orphans are eligible and what proof their caregivers will need to provide to SASSA to collect the Top-Ups. Taking into account the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on child poverty and hunger, the Top-Up could play an important role in supporting vulnerable households. It could also relieve pressure on the social workers and courts who staff the child protection system – giving them more time to provide quality services to children who have been abused or neglected. We need our social workers to be able to respond quickly and with care to calls for help from women and children experiencing violence.”
Child Welfare and CINDI also welcomed the signature of the Act and stated that it is long overdue but cautioned that the amount of the Top-Up must be adequate. The CSG amount is currently R450 which is below the food poverty line and the Stats SA lower bound poverty lines. Julie Todd, of Child Welfare South Africa said that “the Top-Up must be high enough to enable caregivers to feed, clothe, educate and protect the children in their care so as to avoid the need for statutory interventions as is currently the case. No child should be placed under statutory supervision when the sole reason is financial need.”
The amendments further make provision for the establishment of an Independent Tribunal, comprising external experts, to consider appeals made by social grant recipients against SASSA decisions. Black Sash National Director Lynette Maart said, “This is an improvement on the current appeals process and will afford aggrieved grant recipients the benefit of an independent review of their case.”
The need for the establishment of an Inspectorate became especially evident following the fraudulent and unlawful deductions from social grant recipients’ bank accounts and the violation of their confidential data during the SASSA/CPS contract. Furthermore, the social grant payment system is inadequately protected against fraud. The Inspectorate is mandated to conduct investigations to combat the abuse of social assistance frameworks and systems.
The Inspectorate was initially promulgated as a Schedule 3 organisational component as outlined in the Public Service Act of 1994. It will now be a component of the Department of Social Development and report to the Minister. Maart added, “The Inspectorate must ensure the integrity of the social assistance frameworks and systems. Regulations must urgently be gazetted and the budget secured for a fully functional Inspectorate within the 2021/22 financial year.”
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